I can’t believe The Kneading Conference is over. I never can – I love the bubble of bread that happens in Skowhegan the last weekend in July. I love the people I meet and the people I stay with – Susan and David are my Maine family and already I miss them dearly. But for a few days I got to be shoulder to shoulder with people who love bread and love making it. And I got to be the keynote for this event’s 10th anniversary. What a treat.
This place is my book come to life and I hope that my speech makes more regional grain projects happen. I emphasized the importance of mills in giving farmers choices of what to grow. After the conference was over, I went on a farm tour that hammered home the point I was making. Up and up a hill, deep in the middle of nowhere I visited Rusted Rooster farm. Sean O’Donnell was showing people his equipment and crops.
He used an old Clipper cleaner to demonstrate seed cleaning. Behind the machines sat his Gleaner combine and the John Deere combine he uses for parts. He talked about the way his grains lodge and what he does to get those crops out of the field. He talked about soil pH and the hundred years of crop development that made other places better for grain farming.
Sean was really good at articulating how these facts and habits affect what people grow. “I’ve got friends who farm GMO corn and soy. And they aren’t evil. They’re just boxed in by a system,” he said.
My thoughts exactly! Mills are the key to creating new systems that serve the off-grid grain choices people want – heritage varieties, stone milling, non-Big Wheat stuff. The Somerset Grist Mill is fostering such alternatives. Rusted Rooster’s Red Fife – whose seed heads are still green as other growers in the Northeast are finishing up wheat harvest – will head to the mill. Crops from more than 20 other farms go to the mill, too.
Grains are a high volume, low value crop that needs intermediate processing to get to market. Mills are a critical piece of infrastructure. That’s what I told people at the beginning of the conference. Here is the oath:
I do solemnly, happily swear
that I am going to tell everyone I see
that it’s okay to love flour!
Bread is not poison. Invisibility is poison.
I will try to make visible all the labor in bread,
from seed to mill, from mill to loaf.
Mills are the levers to get more interesting
grains in the ground, and on our tables,
and under our butter.